When My Kids Are My Age
The Wonderful World of the 2050s
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Hi friends 👋,
Hope you had a great weekend, and happy Father’s Day to all the Not Boring dads.
This weekend, we visited my parents at the beach to celebrate Father’s Day and my dad’s birthday (happy birthday, dad!). On Sunday morning, my mom asked what I was writing about, and I told her I had no idea. So she said, “OK, let’s brainstorm some ideas.” I rolled my eyes, as even adult kids do when their parents make suggestions, but then, as parents do, she dropped wisdom:
We had no idea that your life was going to be what it is today when you were born. You write a newsletter, from home, and send it to people all over the world, on the internet.
I remember when I came back from maternity leave, Donna [my mom’s teammate at Bell Atlantic] told me about the internet for the first time. We were mainly worried about coin-operated payphones at the time. We thought one day there would be picture phones, but we had no idea what the internet would mean.
If technology is moving even faster now than it was then, imagine what the world is going to be like when Dev and Maya are your age. It’s Father’s Day. You should write about that.
Gotta hand it to her. It’s a good idea. After writing about a lot of things that might make their future very cool over the past few weeks, this is a good opportunity to look at them all together.
It’s a shorter one (sub-2k words!) so I could spend more time with the kids.
Let’s get to it.
When My Kids Are My Age
The world that Dev and Maya live in when they’re my age is going to be profoundly different than the one I grew up in or live in today. It’s impossible to predict how. I tried a little sci-fi short story, but that’s just a guess, one of many possible futures.
A more useful approach might be to look at what’s happening right now to get a sense for just how many things are going to change. When you do that, the internet looks small.
In just the past month, in just this newsletter, we’ve written pieces on nuclear fusion, using screening to effectively cure cancer, the intersection of blockchain and biology to build new nations and grow anything we need, and drug factories in space.
In the Weekly Dose of Optimism, we covered quantum computing becoming useful, spatial computing, ketamine for treatment-resistant major depression, airships and a paralyzed man walking again, and novel ways of fixing the environment.
We haven’t even really touched on AI in the past month, but progress there continues apace. Marc Andreessen has us covered with Why AI Will Save the World.
Again, all of that (ex-Marc’s piece) is just what we’ve written about in Not Boring from mid-May to mid-June 2023.
For context, when my mom got back from maternity leave, there were roughly 30,000 hosts on the internet, and the only reason she knew it was a thing at all was that she worked for a large telco. Most people had no idea what was coming then, and even those who knew it was happening had no idea how it would work its way into every aspect of our lives.
It would be presumptuous to believe that we have a clearer view of the future from our vantage point today than they did from theirs then. But there are clues, even if our current cutting-edge tech is at the “30,000 hosts on the whole internet” version of what it’ll be in the 2050s, and we can extrapolate.
At a minimum, that famous 1954 Lawrence Strauss speech to the National Association of Science Writers may be true for our children even if it wasn’t for his:
Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter...will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.
When I think about the future Dev and Maya will get to experience, I feel, if I’m being honest, a little bit jealous.
Even if all of the fusion companies are a decade too optimistic in their commercialization timelines, and commercial fusion doesn’t come online at meaningful scale until the 2040s, Dev and Maya will already have lived with nuclear fusion for a decade by the time they’re my age. Their generation’s entrepreneurs will get to build products with the assumption that energy is practically free.
Cancer, a shared nagging fear among my generation, may, for all intents and purposes, be a thing of the past as the cost of screening approaches zero and screening technology infuses everyday products.
If even 10% of the biotech companies that we look at are successful, disease as we know it today may be a thing of the past. And Elliot believes biology will be able to do a whole lot more than cure diseases. In addition to new medicines, he highlighted that synthetic biologists are working on growing materials, chemicals, and food.
Varda plans to send factories to space almost daily by the 2030s. What will the space economy look like 20 years beyond that? Certainly, the world will be blanketed with high-speed internet connection – internet too cheap to meter! – but it’s not inconceivable that Dev and Maya will vacation in space hotels the way you and I might vacation in Mexico. They may even, as Robert Zubrin suggests, commute to work in industrial parks in space.
And as Marc summed up his optimistic take on AI:
In short, anything that people do with their natural intelligence today can be done much better with AI, and we will be able to take on new challenges that have been impossible to tackle without AI, from curing all diseases to achieving interstellar travel.
Even if we’re at the peak of the hype cycle in any or all of these technologies, thirty years is enough time for them to fall into the trough of disillusionment, climb back up the slope of enlightenment to the plateau of productivity, and become boring. My kids will be riding new S-curves we can’t even fathom today.
If that seems overly optimistic, consider the fate of two technologies that have been stuck in a never-ending loop in the first half of the Hype Cycle: AR/VR and self-driving cars.
AR/VR. I ranted about this on twitter already, but with Apple’s announcement of the Vision Pro, a lot of people who were very skeptical about AR/VR a few weeks ago are very excited about it now. This first version won’t be the thing that gets everyone to adopt the technology – Apple projects something like 1 million units – but it’s clear that we’re on the path down the cost curve and up the capability curve that will ultimately lead to widespread adoption.
Self-Driving. Right now, as we speak, in Phoenix and San Francisco, people can pull out their phone, book a ride with Cruise, get in a car with no driver, and get driven to their destination. There should be celebrations in the streets, ticker tape parades at least as big as the Denver Nuggets’. I remember watching Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century when I was twelve, seeing a bunch of kids hopping into a car that drove itself, and thinking that it was the most futuristic, never-gonna-happen-for-real shit I’d ever seen. Twenty-four years later, we have it.
These breakthroughs keep happening, and each time we’re like, “Oh yeah cool, oh well, everything still sucks.” Obviously, a big part of the reason for that is that technology isn’t the cure for everything, but c’mon. Self-driving cars are real and you can book one on your phone. That’s amazing.
There’s this thing where some people don’t want to bring children into this terrible world of ours over fears around climate change or whatever x-risk du jour terrifies them. Having kids is a choice and to each their own, but if people genuinely aren’t having kids because they’re worried about climate change, that’s fucking tragic. The kids will be alright, and if anything, our kids are going to feel bad for us for having to live in a world so primitive, like we feel bad for our grandparents for having to walk eight miles to and from school, in the snow, uphill both ways.
I understand that things aren’t perfect today. There’s inequality, disease, war, homelessness, drug addiction, prejudice, and, currently, this exhausting debate over the RFK Jr. debate, a little peek into our larger struggle with shared truths. Tech has not solved all of the world’s problems as some of its boosters have promised it would by now. But the answer is not to retreat and regress; the moral imperative is to grow our way to the other side.
This is not pollyannaish indefinite optimism. It is definite optimism.
To be specific, the world Dev and Maya live in when they’re as old as Puja and I are now will be, conservatively, one with:
Cheap, abundant energy, and all of the wonderful possibilities that entails,
Fewer diseases and longer healthy lives,
Global connectivity for everyone on earth who wants it,
On-demand access to intelligence of all shapes and sizes,
More broadly distributed ownership and governance of the products we use, and better access to financial opportunity for all,
Cheaper, faster travel on earth and to space and persistent access to rich, personalized and social virtual worlds,
Widespread availability of treatments for depression and finer tools to explore and expand the capabilities of their own minds,
The ability to grow an increasing percentage of the things they need biologically,
Much, much more, much of which we can’t possibly fathom today.
This is the world in thirty years if even a fraction of the startups today succeed. There will be thousands or millions of new startups formed in the interim, new technological breakthroughs to explore, and fascinating opportunities opened up as many of today’s moonshots become jumping-off points.
Just writing that list makes me so excited for Dev and Maya, and it makes me want to do everything I can to help speed it up. I want them to benefit from as much of this as possible, as quickly as possible, and I want to be there to help guide them through it. Selfishly, part of the reason I’m an accelerationist is that I want Puja and I to be able to live long enough to experience all of this magic with them.
Of course, this future is not a foregone conclusion. We can easily get in our own way. There are countless paths to shooting ourselves in the foot, from getting so caught up in petty bullshit that we take our eyes off the prize to letting bad actors taint promising technologies, but those seem tractable. The biggest risk to this future as I see it is that we do a bad job of bringing everyone along, incite backlash over every new innovation, and regulate ourselves to death, at least in the United States. Nuclear and psychedelics are just two of many cautionary tales.
That dynamic is the reason that Not Boring’s mission is to make the world more optimistic. It’s not so that we all feel blindly and uselessly hopeful in the face of really bad things; it’s so more people can see that the future, hopefully ours and definitely our kids’, is insanely bright if we let it be, and have the knowledge and enthusiasm to fight on the side of that future.
As I sat here writing this on Father’s Day, while my kids were playing on the beach, I thought of the story of the investment banker and the fisherman. You know the story. There’s a fisherman who fishes a little every day, siestas with his wife, spends time with his kids, and dances with his friends. An investment banker vacationing in town tells him that he could fish more, expand, take on financing, make a lot of money, and then retire early to fish a little every day, siesta with his wife, spend time with his kids, and dance with his friends.
It got me. I stopped writing, went down to the beach, and played with my kids. There’s no point in getting excited about living longer and being able to work less if you already don’t get to enjoy the time you have with the people you love.
But they’re at the beach again, and I’m here writing. Unlike the fisherman, I don’t want the world to look the same when I retire as it does today.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back in your inbox on Friday for the Weekly Dose.
Thanks for reading,